Advocates to feds: Don't charge for drone registrations

Greg Nash

Drone advocates are warning the Obama administration not to impose registration fees in a new documentation system that is being set up to help the federal government keep track of the devices. 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been working with a task force that was set up in October to craft a registration system for drones after an increase in the number of aircraft pilots who have reported seeing the unmanned vehicles during flights. 

The agency is believed to be considering a mandatory fee for drone users to register, against the advice of industry members of the task force. 

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The Arlington, Va.-based Consumer Technology Association said Thursday the idea of charging drone users to register their devices with the federal government is a bad idea, even if the fee is low. 

"The FAA's UAS Registration Task Force — comprised of a wide range of stakeholders and viewpoints — developed a consensus set of recommendations regarding a registration system for consumer, recreational and hobbyist drones, pursuant to a directive from the Department of Transportation (DOT)," the consumer technology group said. 

"To be successful, an efficient drone registration system with widespread compliance must be simple, easy and free," the group continued. "We urge that any requirements for consumers to pay fees be dropped. Even a small fee — essentially a drone tax — could undermine the FAA's objective of widespread compliance and Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony FoxxFeds require new safeguards for railroad employees Uber to spend M to meet demand during Metro maintenance Virginia gov threatens to withhold DC Metro funding MORE's goal of associating a drone with an owner as often as possible." 

The FAA has been in the process of developing rules for commercial drones for the better part of three years, but the new rules will also apply to recreational devices.

Transportation department officials have not publicly weighed in on the debate over the fees.

The agency has said it is trying to finalize the rules for registering drones ahead of the holiday season, which is expected to include brisk sales of the devices. 

"Registration will instill a sense of accountability and responsibility among UAS [unmanned aircraft systems] pilots, and also will prompt them to become educated about safe flying in the National Airspace System (NAS)," FAA Administrator Michael Huerta wrote in a blog post on the Department of Transportation's website last month. 

"For those who choose to ignore the rules and fly unsafely, registration is a tool that will assist us and our law enforcement partners in finding them," Huerta continued then. 

On Thursday, the consumer group emphasized the importance of not making the eventual registration process too burdensome for drone users. 

"This is a crucial time for public policy concerning drones. For the U.S. to stay competitive and drone-related businesses and startups to thrive, we need regulatory — as well as non-regulatory — solutions that support safety and innovation," the group said. 

"We urge the FAA to follow the recommendations of the Task Force regarding registration, maintaining the spirit of collaboration among manufacturers, retailers, the aviation industry and law enforcement officials," the statement concluded.